Phocion R. Way

Something a little different for today — a primary source. I use secondary sources a lot, often because they’re easier, tend to be in English (I can read Spanish, but I’m very slow), and bring hard-to-find sources and information closer to hand. That said, whenever I find a relevant primary source there’s a general celebration of one sort or another.

Whether or not I like the author of said primary source is a different matter. There’s often plenty of reasons not to like them. They have different mores, values, and ideas. These may or may not be typical of the time, but they tend to be different from our time (or at least from me). The “catch” title of the diary of Phocion R. Way, as printed in 2016, is Overland via “Jackass Mail” in 1858, and as far as I’m concerned the title adjective can apply to the author as well as his mode of travel.

Nevertheless, “Jackass Mail” refers to the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line, evidently called such “because passengers often had to ride on muleback from Fort Yuma to San Diego.” Way, however, headed to Tubac, Arizona, and stayed there for quite a while.

What prompted me to purchase the pamphlet (while visiting the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park) was Phocion’s descriptions of his month-plus travels from Cairo, Illinois, to Tubac. He traveled a little later than the characters in my serial novel / short story sequence Twisting the Border. Nevertheless, his experiences were close enough in time that I can make use of his observations of travel–albeit filtered and repurposed. For instance, the fifth installment has several of my characters taking a steamer from New Orleans to the Texan port of Indianola. They experience very different weather (a storm where Way had a very calm trip), but pass the same buoy as he did, and the steamer stops in Galveston as his did. Similarly, the sixth installment takes place near Victoria, so Way’s observations of his passage come in handy (albeit he traveled in spring whereas my characters face late summer heat).

This post is not in praise of Phocion R. Way–but of primary sources, of which his 1858 diary is one.

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